MPs call for backstop to be replaced by “alternative arrangements”
MPs have voted to support an amendment tabled by Sir Graham Brady which supports May’s withdrawal agreement but calls for the replacement of the Northern Ireland backstop with “alternative arrangements.” In a series of votes to determine how the prime minister should proceed with Brexit, MPs backed two amendments: Sir Graham Brady’s and one tabled by Dame Spelman and Labour’s Jack Dromey which ruled out the possibility of a no-deal Brexit. While both amendments are non-binding, they clearly indicate the opinion of the House.
While MPs chose to support these two amendments, they rejected a number of proposals including those forwarded by the Labour front bench and Yvette Cooper. The Brady amendment passed by 317 votes to 301, the majority of these votes coming from the Conservatives and their DUP allies, although seven Labour MPs defied the party leadership to support the motion.
The success of the Spelman amendment has removed the barrier Corbyn had set before he would enter talks with May. Commenting on this after the vote, the Labour leader said: “Since we have this debate and the House has emphatically voted to reject the no-deal option that the prime minister was supporting, could I say that we are prepared to meet her to put forward the points of the view of the Labour Party of the kind of agreement we want with the EU."
Despite the amendment supporting May in the short term, allowing her to return to the EU to renegotiate the backstop arrangement, these talks look certain to run into difficulties. The EU has consistently stated that the withdrawal agreement cannot be re-opened for negotiation and immediately following the vote, a spokesman for the European Council president Donal Tusk stated that: “The withdrawal agreement is not open for renegotiation. The agreement is a carefully negotiated compromise, which balances the UK position on customs and the single market with avoiding a hard border and protecting the integrity of the EU customs union and single market.” They added that “The best way to ensure an orderly withdrawal is to ratify this agreement.”
Speaking immediately after the series of votes, May vowed to renegotiate while appreciating the challenges that this would involve. She said “We will now take this mandate forward and seek to obtain legally-binding changes to the withdrawal agreement that deal with concerns on the backstop while guaranteeing no return to a hard border between Northern Ireland and Ireland," before adding that “there is limited appetite for such a change in the EU and negotiating it will not be easy."
As yet, it is unclear what these “alternative arrangements” will entail.